‘50/50’ community art project returns to 411 Gallery for fourth year

Part of Victoria Bell’s recently completed master’s of architecture studies included a project on the city’s art-deco Crump Theatre, a focus of a significant current renovation project. And for Bell’s visual arts final in her study program, she submitted a textile piece.

Therein lies the dual inspiration for her latest work, an art scene titled “Stitched Crump,” which she describes as “a kind of drawing with a needle and thread,” done from a picture.

“It’s really fun to experiment,” said Bell, who considers herself an art hobbyist, as she puts it. “And it’s just fun to try new things.”

The effort is part of the annual “50/50: A Community Art Project” running through Feb. 20 at Gallery 411 at 411 Sixth St. in downtown Columbus. And the fact that Bell is not a full-time artist is part of the charm and attraction of the exhibit organized by the nonprofit Columbus Area Arts Council.

Now in its fourth year, 50/50 is an opportunity for any resident to be creative and contribute to a group exhibition at the intimate space. The arts council provides four-inch square panels – for free – to 50 of the first-come participants, who each create a unique work of art.

Organized as a fundraising initiative in support of 411 Gallery, these 50 artworks then are sold for $50 each, benefiting future programming at the gallery. With a diverse group of local talent, from marketers to musicians, 50/50 continues to generate buzz, making art accessible to all. A city council member even submitted a piece in the past.

That artistic accessibility to the general public was one of Kathryn Armstrong’s big goals when she became the arts council’s executive director in 2016. She acknowledged that this popular exhibition fits perfectly into that vision.

“I didn’t really know if this would take off or not,” Armstrong said. “It certainly seemed like a nice gesture, giving everyone in the community a chance to participate. We were initially curious about who might respond and what art we would get back.

“Today, we continue to be surprised by what they manage to bring in, and how they interpret what this four-by-four square can be.”

Jan Banister, retired curator of the 506 Gallery at 506 Fifth St. and also a former curator of gallery space at Ivy Tech Community College, has been a big fan of Armstrong’s brainchild from the beginning.

“The whole idea is brilliant,” Banister said.

She is enough of a fan that she has submitted a piece each year, including this year’s work, titled “Long Ago and Far Away.” Inspired by the first graphic artwork she ever did as a freshman 50 years ago at the Columbus (Ohio) College of Art & Design, her artfully painted message — “People on the moon I see are things not meant to be” — was inspired by a 1971 James Taylor song.

“When you think of NASA back then and all the projected new moon landings — well, it was certainly an interesting thought,” she said. “And last fall, 50 years later, that’s what occurred to me while staring at a four-inch square. It seems like such a small landscape.”

Until one gets a cross-section of the community engaged.